Lead Pastor Ben Elliott, of the Deer Park Alliance Church, now videotapes his sermons and posts them for viewing on the church’s website. (Contributed photo by Paul Krupin.)

Red Deer churches find new, digital ways of reaching out to parishioners

Many churches are honing their techie-skills and going online

With many anxious parishioners needing consolation, Red Deer churches are finding alternative ways of delivering their weekly services.

Most, if not all local houses of worship have stopped doing live services after the government banned gatherings of more than 50 people to try to slow the spread of COVID-19.

These churches have now reverted to various alternatives, such as holding virtual services available by livestream, video or audio.

“These are challenging times” — both emotionally and technologically, admitted Pastor Peter Rockhold, of the New Life Fellowship Christian Reform Church.

“The nice thing is that the people are all understanding and flexible, even when we have technical difficulties, because we’re not the most (tech savvy) people in the world, ” he added, with a chuckle.

As of last weekend, New Life Fellowship’s 100 members have been able to sign on to a Zoom interactive teleconference site.

After first obtaining a password from the church, small groups of four or five people can come together virtually to participate in discussions and prayers.

Other digital forms are also being explored. Rockhold said, “It’s an adjustment, but I think churches are adjusting well…”

At Deer Park Alliance Church, lead Pastor Ben Elliott now performs Sunday services in an empty church. These are videotaped and posted for viewing on the church’s website.

There’s also a “text to pray” option available, which allows parishioners to text in requests for prayers to be said for people who are experiencing troubles, said Elliott.

And the church is now looking at setting up a personal connection platform, such as Skype, that can be used for one-on-one consultations.

The sad irony of all this virus containment is not lost on Elliott, who observes that churches have usually functioned as an important community hub. Many people depend on Sunday services and various men’s and women’s groups to get out and commune with others.

Knowing this, he said several church members are making a point of reaching out to older people.

“In the middle of this coronavirus (pandemic), we are putting together a plan to be connected to all seniors over the phone.”

As well, a volunteer group was formed to help with picking up prescriptions and groceries for older parishioners who are at higher risk if they contract the virus, or who are housebound because of other illnesses.

Marriages and funerals present a new logistical challenge. Elliott had to tell a couple of brides and grooms to scale back their wedding plans to immediate family and best friends only.

“If they can all fit in my office, then it’s OK,” said Elliott, who advises these people to have a huge celebration on their first anniversary instead.

As for funerals, it’s small graveside ceremonies only for now.

“We’re all in this together, as a community,” he added, so people have so far been understanding.

Officials at Gaetz Memorial United Church are still allowing individuals to enter the sanctuary for reflection and prayers, even though there are no live services.

While church leaders explore options for livestreaming or videotaping local services, parishioners are being advised to watch other United Church services online.

Minister Leila Currie said she’s always available by phone for pastoral care, and church members are also calling more isolated people to ensure “nobody falls between the cracks.”

As Easter approaches, the prospect of having no live church services feels like “it’s Lent and we’re all in the wilderness,” said Currie.

“But if we are all living in a loving manner, being as compassionate as we can be, it means isolating ourselves, unfortunately…”

“Fortunately, there are a lot of ways of connecting these days and that’s a blessing.”


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter


Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Trump preparing order targeting social media protections

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump is preparing to sign an executive order… Continue reading

Legal experts weigh in on Meng Wanzhou decision from B.C. Supreme Court

VANCOUVER — A loss in court for Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou has… Continue reading

US virus deaths top 100,000, caseloads rise in India, Russia

MOSCOW — As the United States crossed a sombre landmark of 100,000… Continue reading

USMCA poised for star turn in trade spotlight as White House sours on China

WASHINGTON — If trade deals were football players, Canada’s agreement with the… Continue reading

PHOTOS: Loved ones reunite at an oasis on closed U.S.-Canada border

Officials closed the park in mid-March over coronavirus concerns

Opinion: Fix the long-term care horror

There’s a long-term-care crisis in Canada that is crying out for short-term,… Continue reading

NWSL returning to play with summertime tournament in Utah

Pro soccer returns to the U.S. next month when the National Women’s… Continue reading

Hockey Canada cancels summer camps, going virtual with training camps

CALGARY — Hockey Canada announced on Wednesday that it has cancelled all… Continue reading

NASA chief “all in” for Tom Cruise to film on space station

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — NASA is rolling out the International Space Station’s… Continue reading

CTV drama ‘Cardinal’ leads Canadian Screen Awards TV pack with seven wins

TORONTO — Three shows that have left the air for good in… Continue reading

If an MP heckles in a virtual House of Commons, does it make a sound?

If an MP heckles in a virtual House of Commons, does it make a sound?

How much will be enough when it comes to Canada’s COVID-19 supply?

How much will be enough when it comes to Canada’s COVID-19 supply?

Most Read